Moving back and forth between Vermont and New York City, Ten Thousand Saints is the story of a frayed tangle of teenagers brought painfully together by a death, then carried along in anticipation of a new and unexpected life.
Ten Thousand Saints is a whirling dervish of a first novel — a planet, a universe, a trip. As wild as that may sound, wonder of wonders, the book is also carefully and lovingly created, taking the reader far into the lives and souls of its characters and bringing them back out again, blinking in the bright light ... [Henderson's] little band of four wounded kids forms the heart of the novel and Henderson bonds her readers to her characters by exposing their vulnerabilities right up front ... Henderson knows a lot about various music scenes in the late 1980s and the 1990s. She knows a lot about rural poverty, about the need to escape. She writes with great compassion but does not flinch — some scenes are amped up so loud a reader looks away. Sometimes the aimless frenzy of these kids’ lives is hard to bear ... It’s a natural law: The better you know a character, the more deeply you see their vulnerability and the odds stacked against them, the more you want them to succeed. What makes Ten Thousand Saints so deeply satisfying is that possibility and the slow, painful steps to get there.
Full-throttle and hell-bent, Henderson captures the dark, gritty milieu of 1980s New York – in the throes of the Aids epidemic – while exploring the relationships between friends, lovers, parents and children, and how these connections are made, broken, strengthened and twisted by circumstance. Ten Thousand Saints is a beautiful, elegiac, relentless novel that knocks the wind out of you. Take a deep breath before you dive in.
The ambition of Ten Thousand Saints, Eleanor Henderson’s debut novel about a group of unambitious lost souls, is beautiful. In nearly 400 pages, Henderson does not hold back once: she writes the hell out of every moment, every scene, every perspective, every fleeting impression, every impulse and desire and bit of emotional detritus. She is never ironic or underwhelmed; her preferred mode is fierce, devoted and elegiac ... By delving as deeply into the lives of her characters as she does, tracing their long relationships not only to one another but also to various substances, Henderson manages to catch something of the bloody, felt intersection of lives and cult bands, of overindulgence and monastic refusal, of the dark, apocalyptic quality of the ’80s. She gets extremes, and people who gravitate toward them. If there is sometimes, perhaps, a little too much here, if the volume gets a little high, it’s understandable: the writer seems to want to make sure that we can hear the sound she presumably hears so clearly herself ... The dial might go to 11, but keeping it there for 400 pages can be tough on even the most sympathetic reader. But if these are flaws, they are the flaws of not knowing quite when to stop, of never wanting to stop, of being able to play all night, of, no, wait, you just have to hear this one. As flaws go, I’ll take them.